Reading Time: 4 minutes

How action films started with The Great Train Robbery in 1903 and how they’ve evolved into today’s high-octane Hollywood franchises

action film

Photo by Igor Bumba

Action films are among the most iconic and popular pieces of media in Hollywood. Many might identify the genre with the 21st century. However, the truth is that action films have been around since the inception of cinema.

The first ever action film released in 1903, and was titled The Great Train Robbery. As you might guess based on the title, the film told the story of a notable train robbery, and was loosely based on a true story.

However, today’s action films are a lot more complex. In fact, they are often part of a greater franchise. In this article, we are going to discuss some of the most iconic action film franchises today. So, if you are interested in high-octane, adrenaline-pumping action, then get ready for some of the best films in the genre.

James Bond (Daniel Craig)

It is difficult to discuss James Bond in the 21st century. The MI6 Super Spy has been around since the 1950s in literary form, and continues to dazzle cinema-goers to this day. The most recent iteration of Bond also served as a sort of soft reboot of the franchise, which paints the titular spy in a bit of a grittier role.

In 2006, Daniel Craig took the reins of Bond, starring in the first film of the reboot; Casino Royale. The super spy is sent to investigate a suspected arm dealer with a penchant for Texas Hold ‘em. In the original novel, Bond plays baccarat, which remains an incredibly popular card game to this day.

Online casinos, for example, still prominently feature baccarat games, especially in the live casino section of their websites. Of course, Texas Hold ‘em is the undisputed king of the online and land-based casino market, and you can find both games at Casino Days Canada, as well as many more.

Casino Royale is often considered one of the best entries in the James Bond mythos. However, what most people remember is Skyfall, the follow-up film, which enchanted audiences, and brought Bond back into the mainstream. There is no doubt that the Daniel Craig iteration of Bond is one of the most iconic action film franchises today.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Once upon a time, super heroes were seen as little more than children’s entertainment. However, that all changed in 2008, when Robert Downey Jr. put on the gold-and-red armor of Iron Man, and starred in the first film of what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film was a huge success, and rebuilt Downey Jr.’s career, after quite a bit of a slump. Marvel Studios followed up Iron Man with a sequel, as well as a few stand-alone super hero films, like Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk. Of course, it all culminated in the 2012 film, The Avengers.

The massive success of the first Avengers film propelled these characters to a household name, and quickly made Marvel the biggest success of the 21st century. Even now, Avengers films take up a couple of spots on the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time. There really is no discussion, The Avengers is certainly one of the most iconic franchises in 2024.

Mission Impossible

Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Tom Cruise is one of the most charismatic and dedicated actors working in Hollywood. He performs his own stunts, he is willing to take his body to extremes, and he simply has an engrossing presence that not many actors have. So, it isn’t a surprise that one of his flagship franchises makes the list.

The first Mission Impossible film released in 1996, and was, for the most part, a relatively grounded action/spy thriller. However, each new release takes it up a notch. And now, seven films into the franchise later, Ethan Hunt is dealing with comic book/anime-style assassins, artificial intelligence, and nation-spanning government conspiracies…

And it is still just as awesome as it ever was. The films have delved progressively more into the fantasy or science fiction genre. However, most fans are perfectly fine with these developments, and hope to see much more of them. The latest film, Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning was met with absolutely stellar reviews.

John Wick

We have to talk about Keanu Reeves’ most recent masterpiece, John Wick. The simple name of the films may not say much, but it says everything you need to know. John Wick, a former assassin for the mafia operating under the name Baba Yaga, has retired. He has settled down with a wife and a dog. But, a series of events lead Wick to go back to the life.

It all began with a dead dog, and a revenge plot. The simple and straightforward premise of the first film leads perfectly into the second film, where Wick has to deal with a betrayal from the mafia. He then goes on an incredible journey, fighting against some of the strongest assassins in the world, and dominates all of them without much effort.

As things are now, John Wick is one its fourth installment. All of the films are available on Netflix, and all of them are just as good as the last. If it wasn’t for The Matrix, John Wick would definitely be Keanu Reeves most iconic role. For those wondering why the Matrix did not make the list, it certainly is a staple of pop culture, but the two follow ups have not withstood the test of time.

Honorable Mentions

The four franchises we’ve discussed in this article are, without a doubt, incredibly important, noteworthy, and iconic. However, they are not the only action franchises of the 21st century that have become a staple of pop culture. The following is a list of some franchises that certainly deserve, at least, an honorable mention.

  • The Batman Trilogy: Nolan’s Batman trilogy remains a definitive interpretation on the character.
  • The X-Men Films: Separate from the MCU, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films were iconic for their time. Of course, now that Disney owns both Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox, we may see a crossover.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Disney’s flagship pirate franchise is certainly a hugely influential series in the 21st

This content is a joint venture between our publication and our partner. We do not endorse any product or service in the article.